Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Research?

You should know, before I start this story, that I have a very serious People Magazine addiction. Major. Now, here's the story...

The family and I were sitting at Five Guys, having yummy burgers and fries on a Sunday afternoon. My son, age 7, wants to be a pop star like Justin Bieber, so the Biebs is one of his heroes. (Hey, it could be worse.)

My MIL was talking to Ashton about Justin Bieber. He mentioned that Selena Gomez is his girlfriend. My MIL looked taken aback, and she asked, "How do you know that?" He just shrugged and pointed at me. He said, "I learned it from Mom. She does research."

I laughed SO HARD that I thought I was going to choke! He knows that every now and then (okay, honestly probably more than that), I like to catch up on my celeb gossip on the computer. And once in a while, he'll come over and say, "Who's that?" and I'll tell him what I feel is appropriate for a 7-year-old to know. (My favorite was when he was aghast at the picture of Lady Gaga in the meat dress. "WHO would do something like that? That is DISGUSTING.")

The funniest thing to me was that he called it research! It's just a guilty pleasure, a time-waster. But then, the teacher in me started to think. Is it research?

Right now, I'm planning an expository writing unit, complete with a final research project. In my quest to keep in mind the needs of 21st century learners, perhaps I need to broaden my view of "research."

Let's think about it. What are kids looking at on the Internet? Things that interest them, right? Maybe for a few of them, it's Bieber. For some, it's skateboarding tricks. Others are looking at YouTube videos (Lord help us all), downloading music from iTunes, or watching upcoming movie trailers.

As our students do that, though, they're READING. To LEARN something new. They are building on their prior knowledge of their interests, learning something new, thereby broadening that knowledge base. Later, on the bus, the playground, or in a text message, they are sharing what they've learned with other kids. That's research, isn't it?

So, perhaps my love of celebrity gossip and the time I devote to learning more about it isn't useful research. But I like it, and I'm using a lot of the research steps when I check up on Jennifer, George, Kim, Kate, Brad... er... well, you know. I'm thinking about ways I can use the kids' interests to help our culminating research project be even more meaningful. I have a lot of ideas floating around in my head tonight, but nothing down on paper just yet. I'm excited to get started!

And to think, this all started with my 7-year-old's hysterically serious declaration about mommy's "research!"

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Enthusiasm!

My son is in karate. When they've all been working particularly hard, the instructor will call out the word, "Enthusiasm!" Everyone stops where they are and starts clapping for each other.


As teachers, we need to do this to ourselves. So here's a little enthusiasm for me and the other teachers on my fifth grade team! We've devoted our year to one basic principle in reading, and here it is - reading. Yep. We want our kids to read more.

We have TONS of books in our classrooms (see the shelf from my classroom in the photo). We love to read. I talk to the kids all the time about books I love, and I recommend/talk up books like I'm paid to do it! (Well, in truth, I am, aren't I?)

Kids have time for independent reading in our classroom. Yep - every kid. Time to read silently. I love it!

I have even been accused of being crazy. I have a few kids who have been hooked on a book series, but I only have perhaps books one and two, so I will invite the student over to my table, get on my laptop, and order the rest of the books in the series from Amazon with One-Click. (Thank goodness for free shipping from Amazon Prime!)

And one of my most favorite things that we do? We allow our kids to select their own books to read. Yes, it's true. When I teach the standards, it is quite possible that I'm teaching a reading standard to 55 different novels. Scary? Sure. Effective? You bet. It has made an amazing difference in our classrooms! Our kids are reading more, it seems, than ever before.
As a true teacher, aka "data collector," I wanted to see if our reading initiative was working. I asked two questions on Edmodo, a safe and secure social networking site for teachers and their students.

1) Compared to your other years in elementary school, do you think you are reading
     a) the same amount as in previous years
     b) more than in previous years
     c) less than in previous years.

AND...

2) If you answered that this year, you are reading more, why do you think that's true?

So far, in 2 days, 1 student has said that he reads the same, and 17 students say that they are reading MORE. Enthusiasm!

I was also pleased when the students told me what made the difference. Here's the breakdown:

*7 students said, "My teacher loves to read, and she encourages me to read." (Pass me a tissue!)
*4 students said, "We are allowed to choose our own books to read." A true testament to the power of self-selected books!
*3 students said, "My teacher helps recommend books to me that she thinks I will like."
*2 students said, "We have time in class for silent reading."
*1 student said, "We have a lot of books in our classroom."

If I had to recommend any tips for a teacher who wants her students to read more, here's what I'd say: 



1) Read. A lot. And tell your kids, and
2) Let kids choose their own books to read!

If you follow a scripted reading program at your school, then I understand that sometimes you have to have more structure. However, if you can find a time during the year, or a little bit of time during the day, for your kids to choose their own books - do it! You'll be amazed at the difference it will make!

In 8 weeks, my students have read between 3 and 22 books each! Enthusiasm for them! They are proud of themselves, and I'm pretty darn proud of them too.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Looking for H.O.T.S. Stuff?

Sometimes when we write lesson plans, it's easy to think of a good remediation for our lessons. The harder part, however, is thinking of good extensions for students who require more of a challenge in their work. In the course of getting my gifted endorsement, I have found that I LOVE using two gifted strategies in my regular-ed classroom: Six Hats and SCAMPER.

You can Google them to find out more information if you are interested, or you can download the bookmarks I created to use these strategies in my classroom. They work for ALL of my students, and they encourage higher-order thinking from everyone. Click here for Six Hats and here for SCAMPER.

We also use a lot of Bloom's Taxonomy in our reading classrooms. Click here to download the bookmarks for fiction and nonfiction books that the kids use to ask EACH OTHER higher order thinking questions about their reading! This lets me sit back and listen, working as referee, coach, and diagnostician all at once.

If you choose to use these, please email me your feedback! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

GTOY Conference

Today, I promised some documents for my new District TOTY friends that I met at the GTOY Conference. All of my documents are on my school laptop (sheesh!) and I will load them on Friday. Check back soon!

Friday, September 30, 2011

iPods & iPad Safety Settings

When you let your lovely students use your iPods or iPads, you'll want to be sure that the devices are safe for them to use. (And quite frankly, at times, safe FROM them, hehe!)

Here's a quick set of directions on how to make your tech student-friendly.

Find the Settings on the device. Once it opens, click "General." Then find and click on "Restrictions."

Here it will ask you to set up a 4-digit code for your restrictions. For your sanity's sake, make it something you can remember.

Once you enter that information, you'll be able to restrict certain things. Here's a rundown of what I have restricted on my devices in my classroom.

Safari - ON
YouTube - OFF
Camera - ON (I want them to use this for projects)
FaceTime - OFF
iTunes - OFF (I don't want them downloading their own music)
Ping - OFF
Installing Apps - OFF
Deleting Apps - OFF

Allow Changes:
Location - OFF
Accounts - OFF

Allowed Content:
In-App Purchases - OFF (for obvious reasons)
Ratings for - United States
Music & Podcasts - Explicit OFF (again, obvious)
Movies - G
TV Shows - NONE
Apps* - ALL

*A word of caution: You may be tempted to limit the age on your apps. That seems to be common sense. However, many apps you will want your student to use (like Dictionary.com) are 17+! INSANITY! It is safe that if you have the Installing Apps and iTunes Store set to OFF, then whatever you have downloaded is safe for them to use.

I hope this helps you start the process of getting your devices student-ready!



Apps: A Caution About (Some) Free Games

My students were playing games on the iPods and the iPad after school while waiting on their buses to arrive. They were playing a variety of things, and they enjoyed taking turns switching their devices to have a few minutes on each game. I have a few "free" games on these devices, and it made me think of a few things I'd share with the blog readers out there!

I have the free Scrabble downloaded. Yes, it's free, but as two of my lovelies were playing "Pass & Play" (where you share the device, you just pass it back and forth when your turn is over), I noticed that there was an ad every few turns. It was a stupid 30-second ad, but in my opinion, that's totally annoying. I think it's totally worth the $1.99 for the full app where you don't have to worry about ads in the game!

That goes for several of the games for the iPod and iPad. My advice? If it's less than $2, spring for it. It's worth it.

How do we broke-as-all-get-out teachers pay for apps? I just put iTunes gift cards on my Wish List. It goes out on my classroom blog every so often for parents, and they never let me down! When they know I am buying good word game apps to help engage their kids in learning, parents are happy to provide. Just don't be afraid to ask!

Now, I will say that some free games are ad-free, so the bottom line is this: be sure to check the comments in the App Store before you buy!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Need Apps?

I love my iPad (and my iPad 2).  I love my iPhone. I love my iPods that I recently received for my classroom. If you haven't figured it out, I love my Apple technology! And my students love it, too.

Perhaps you've been blessed enough to get some cool tech gadgets like these in your classroom, but you're not sure what to do with it. We all have ideas of all the cool things we can do with it, but when it comes time to set up your iTunes account and start loading things onto your iPad or iPod, where do you begin?

I'm hoping to write a few posts with some updates on apps I love and how I use them. Please share with me things you love, too, and I'll add them to the list!

In the picture for this blog post, you will see one of my students using an iPod Touch to play the NY Times Crossword Puzzle. It's tough, but they like to work on this together. It helps them to work collaboratively and work on spelling and vocabulary skills simultaneously. What's not to love? This is a FREE app!

Here are a few other free apps I like:
Cut the Rope (Lite) - this teaches students critical thinking as they have to plan ahead several steps in order to successfully get all 3 stars and feed the candy to the monster. You could also purchase the full version for $0.99.

BrainPop - this has several videos to choose from. If you are familiar with BrainPop, you know how informative these short animated videos can be! Students can even take the quizzes after watching. They can keep track of high scores and try to beat the scores of other students or beat their own scores. It does not have the full repertoire of videos available on the website; it has 3 for math, 3 for science, 3 for language, 3 for arts, etc. It's a great app to have!

Google Earth - this is just super cool. Get it. That's all I have to say. I know that there are TONS of ways to use Google Earth in the classroom, but I can't even begin to share them because I know that I haven't explored its full array of offerings. But let your kids get on it and play. They'll learn more than you could anyway. :)

Dragon Dictation - this allows your kids to record their voices, and it will dictate what they have said. It's not 100% error free, but it's pretty close. Kids like to record and listen to themselves, plus it's great for kids who have super ideas but, for various reasons, have difficulty writing or typing.

That's all for now - but I hope to be adding more posts soon with lots of other free or cheap apps!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Creation of the Teacher

I found this today as I was looking for some words of inspiration for teachers because I planned on popping in to visit our new teachers today, and I wanted something to give them all. I came across it, read it, and cried. A lot. I'm glad I haven't done my eye makeup just yet.

Without further ado, enjoy!

The Creation of the Teacher
Author Unknown

The Good Lord was creating teachers. It was His sixth day of 'overtime' and He knew that this was a tremendous responsibility for teachers would touch the lives of so many impressionable young children. An angel appeared to Him and said, "You are taking a long time to figure this one out."

"Yes," said the Lord, " but have you read the specs on this order?"

TEACHER:
…must stand above all students, yet be on their level
... must be able to do 180 things not connected with the subject being taught
... must run on coffee and leftovers,
... must communicate vital knowledge to all students daily and be right most of the time
... must have more time for others than for herself/himself
... must have a smile that can endure through pay cuts, problematic children, and worried parents
... must go on teaching when parents question every move and others are not supportive
... must have 6 pair of hands.

"Six pair of hands, " said the angel, "that's impossible"

"Well, " said the Lord, " it is not the hands that are the problem. It is the three pairs of eyes that are presenting the most difficulty!"

The angel looked incredulous, " Three pairs of eyes...on a standard model?"

The Lord nodded His head, " One pair can see a student for what he is and not what others have labeled him as. Another pair of eyes is in the back of the teacher's head to see what should not be seen, but what must be known. The eyes in the front are only to look at the child as he/she 'acts out' in order to reflect, " I understand and I still believe in you", without so much as saying a word to the child."

"Lord, " said the angel, " this is a very large project and I think you should work on it tomorrow".

"I can't," said the Lord, " for I have come very close to creating something much like Myself. I have one that comes to work when he/she is sick.....teaches a class of children that do not want to learn....has a special place in his/her heart for children who are not his/her own.....understands the struggles of those who have difficulty....never takes the students for granted..."

The angel looked closely at the model the Lord was creating.

"It is too soft-hearted, " said the angel.

"Yes," said the Lord, " but also tough, You can not imagine what this teacher can endure or do, if necessary".

"Can this teacher think?" asked the angel.

"Not only think," said the Lord,. "but reason and compromise."

The angel came closer to have a better look at the model and ran his finger over the teacher's cheek.

"Well, Lord, " said the angel, your job looks fine but there is a leak. I told you that you were putting too much into this model. You can not imagine the stress that will be placed upon the teacher."

The Lord moved in closer and lifted the drop of moisture from the teacher's cheek. It shone and glistened in the light.

"It is not a leak," He said, "It is a tear."

"A tear? What is that?" asked the angel, "What is a tear for?"
The Lord replied with great thought, " It is for the joy and pride of seeing a child accomplish even the smallest task. It is for the loneliness of children who have a hard time to fit in and it is for compassion for the feelings of their parents. It comes from the pain of not being able to reach some children and the disappointment those children feel in themselves. It comes often when a teacher has been with a class for a year and must say good-bye to those students and get ready to welcome a new class."

"My, " said the angel, " The tear thing is a great idea...You are a genius!!"

The Lord looked somber, "I didn't put it there."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wanted: Reading Teachers Who Love Books

Do you teach reading in a public school? Do you feel the pressure of federal, state, and local system mandates to turn out "factory readers?" Are you worried about spending more time teaching to the reading test than spreading the love of reading to your students?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, there's a book we'd like to recommend to you: The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller.

The Lit Lady introduced me to this book. She said it would change my life. And she was right.

This book has done more than change my life; it has revolutionized the way I teach reading. It has also dramatically altered the way our students view books.

I had been teaching reading the same way for several years. It was mostly effective, I thought, so it was okay. However, one thing was consistently bugging me. The kids who didn't do well on the state tests continued to perform poorly on those tests - even though I was teaching my heart out, even though they went to extra reading classes, even though I went to countless meetings to learn new ways to help these struggling readers.

I felt discouraged. I felt like a bad teacher. I didn't know what else to do for these students who truly needed an exceptional reading teacher. And I honestly didn't feel like I was the person they deserved. I needed a change. For my classroom, for myself, and - most importantly - for the students.

The change I needed came in the form of the whispered secrets from Donalyn Miller's book. I want to share a short passage from this book with you. See if it resonates with you the way it did with me. Then keep reading to see how I started the change in my own reading classroom.

"Why do developing readers continue to struggle in spite of every intervention effort?  Well, the key might be in the amount of reading these students actually do. Reading policy expert Richard Allington explains in What Really Matters for Struggling Readers that when he examined the reading requirements of Title I and special education programs, he discovered that students in remedial settings read roughly 75 percent less than their peers in regular reading classes. No matter how much instruction students receive in how to decode vocabulary, improve comprehension, or increase fluency, if they seldom apply what they have learned in the context of real reading experiences, they will fail to improve as much as they could.
     The fact that students in remedial programs don't read much has serious consequences for developing readers. Students who do not read regularly become weaker readers with each subsequent year.(Miller, p.24-25)

This passage was the lightbulb moment I needed! Donalyn's struggles were my struggles. Her ideas made sense. It was time to do something with the knowledge she shared.

I read this book in January of this past school year. I devoured it, as a matter of fact. I went on to read other books that the author recommended. I immediately made changes to my classroom. I remember the first day of the "new regime" very well. Prior to reading The Book Whisperer, I had photocopied ahead of time several weeks' worth of reading skill practice sheets. I passed out the copies for all of the students, per usual as part of our Monday morning routine. Then I did something that was NOT routine. I asked the students to rip their papers in half. And then to rip them again.

All of the students were shocked. Some of them just stared; others whispered to their neighbors, "Do you think she's serious?" It was a glorious moment!

After a few moments of stunned silence, a brave soul ripped her paper in half. When I smiled, the other students followed suit. When the ripping was done and the fruits of our labor placed in the recycling bin, I instructed the students to pull out their book of choice - if they didn't have a self-selected book to read, then they were to choose one - and read. Just read. Enjoy your reading class.

Students who hadn't already selected a book to read of their own choice followed me to the bookshelf, and I sat in the floor and started making recommendations. After a bit, all of the students were reading books they chose for themselves in corners, on pillows, and under desks. It is a "lesson" I will savor forever.

I remember receiving phone calls from parents that evening. The kids were thrilled! The parents were impressed, but a little worried. "Just reading?" they asked. I asked them to trust me, and to give it time. I assured them that I didn't stop teaching reading (for heaven's sake, of course not!), but that the basis of a reading class should be READING. I'm really glad everyone agreed, because it was the best change I have ever made in my classroom.

While I still teach the reading standards, teach a mini-lesson to the whole group, conduct small reading groups based on skill needs, and conduct reading conferences, the basis of my reading program is self-selected reading for every child.

Admittedly, it is hard to find time for students who leave the room every day for extra reading instruction to have daily independent reading, but it is something I encourage every reading teacher to find time for in his or her schedule. Independent reading time for books the students choose for themselves is crucial.

If you are looking for a reading class transformation, read this book. It is amazing. You will love it - I know I did.

For more information on the amazing Donalyn Miller and The Book Whisperer, visit her blog: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/book_whisperer/ You can also follow her on Twitter: @donalynbooks

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Embrace Your Inner Geek Day

My new school organization stuff - woot!
So, I'm sitting in one of my summer Gifted Endorsement classes 20 minutes early. Not because I'm a geek, though; my child is at the beach with my aunt and uncle. I am just not used to going somewhere in the morning without getting someone else ready and lugging around extra stuff.

But, I am taking summer classes, and lots of them, so that helps raise my geek status.

Why all the talk about geekiness, you ask?

On the way to my class, I heard on the radio that today is Embrace Your Inner Geek Day! I love the idea of this holiday. I'm the teacher who wears her "Nerdy" shirt to school on Fridays. Literally, I've had a shirt embroidered with the word "Nerdy" on it. I'm a self-proclaimed nerd (but unfortunately not the level of nerd who can fix your computer). I love being nerdy! It's something I'm proud to embrace.

So, on the radio, the DJs were asking everyone what they were geeky about. I'll tell you about myself. I'm geeky about school stuff. Crazy geeky about school stuff! I love school supply shopping, I love buying organizing shelves and baskets, I love making documents for school - I love it all! School stuff totally geeks me out.

How about you? What things make you feel geeky?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My "To-Read" List

So, I posted last week that I want to match my students' requirements for reading and writing, week by week, book by book. Here, I'm going to outline my reading plan to you, dear readers, so you can help to...
a) hold me accountable, and
b) make suggestions for me to read.

My team and I use Donalyn Miller's book, The Book Whisperer, to guide our reading instruction. She gives her students a 40-book goal for the year. Thus, I am going to give myself a 40-book goal for the coming school year, which I will start August 8th.

I need to create a plan for reading. I will also ask my students to make goals and plans for their reading. This is a huge goal, and it's something we will all have to work hard to accomplish.

Donalyn has laid out an outline for the 40-book goal. Here's how she breaks down the 40 books by genre:

Poetry Anthologies: 4
Traditional Literature: 3
Realistic Fiction: 5
Historical Fiction: 4
Fantasy: 4
Science Fiction: 2
Informational: 4
Biographies, Autobiographies, Memoirs: 2
Graphic Novels: 1
Chapter Book Free Choice: 11

I still want to read some kids' lit (so I can continue to make quality recommendations for my students), and I think that will cover the majority of my list. However, I want to focus right now on what I should read from authors targeting the grown-up folks.

Frankly, I haven't paid much attention to any "grown-up" books except for professional development. Don't get me wrong, I love me some good PD books! But I think it's time I branched out.

I already know what I want to read for my Biographies, Autobiographies, and Memoirs selections. I'd like to read Jaycee Dugard's memoir, A Stolen Life. I also want to read Tina Fey's book, Bossy Pants.

I also have a good informational book, a historical account of the shark attacks of 1916. It's called Close to Shore by Michael Capuzzo. Another information book I'd like to read is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Both are sitting on my side table in the living room.

In the fantasy genre, I'd like to read one or two of the Percy Jackson books again. I love to reread some of my favorite books, and I want to model that this is okay for the kids as well. My absolute favorite books to reread are the Harry Potter books, and I am currently reading through the series for the fourth time.

For historical fiction? I definitely want to read The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I feel a little guilty reading a book because it's becoming a movie, but that's a very legitimate way to hear about a book, especially in this era. I feel sort of like I'm jumping on the bandwagon, but that's okay, right, as long as I'm reading more?

The rest? I just don't know where to start. There are so many great authors out there, and I haven't read many fiction books targeted to my demographic in a long time. In my defense, I've read a lot of children's lit so I could be more useful to my students. I want to model for them, though, reading books that are appropriate. So, this is an area in which I can start to grow!

Where do you find book reviews? Who do you look to for advice on what to read? Who is your favorite author? Do you have a title you can recommend?

Help!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Practice What We Preach

I teach reading. I think I'm a fairly good reading teacher. One reason is that I really, truly love to read. My friend, The Lit Lady, and I changed our reading program this year for the better, and our students began reading more and more books. Would you like to know one reason our students read more? Because WE read.

This is a difficult post to write, but this is an idea I take very seriously and believe in very strongly.

Our students can't take us seriously if we don't practice what we preach. This sounds like common sense, but it's tougher than it seems.

If I want my kids to read more, I've got to read. A lot. They have to know it. They have to see me reading. They have to hear me talk about the books I read. They have to see a stack of books I'm hoarding on my desk because they are in my "to read soon" pile. They have to know what's in my "to read soon" pile. They have to be kind of mad that I'm reading it before they have the chance. They have to anticipate me finishing the books in my pile so they can beg to read it next. It's crucial. It happens in my classroom. 

If I want my kids to like nonfiction, I have to read a lot of it myself, and use what knowledge I gain from it. I do a lot of professional reading. I read particularly moving portions of the books sometimes out loud to the students - especially when I read something that I think the kids will have an opinion about. I have to come into my classroom one day so excited over some new method I want to try, and I have to tell them that I found it in a book! I need to show them the cover, tell them the name of the author, and point to the part of the book where I found that idea. This sends such a powerful message!

If you don't read, don't expect your students to do it. If you don't like nonfiction, don't expect your students to like it. Read. Often. In front of the kids. 

Now, I do read more things than just kids' lit and professional development. The kids know that I read books written for adults, but I rarely share titles or authors. (They do know I like Dan Brown and John Grisham, but I don't necessarily want them to go out and read their books at age 10.) They don't need to know that stuff. Nor do they care about the titles or the authors. They do care, though, that I read. It means a lot to them. If you ask them if I enjoy reading, they will say yes. And they will confirm the fact that my love of reading inspires them.

As far as reading goes, I think I do a worthy job of reading a lot and conveying that fact to my students. I want them to be  lifelong lovers of reading like I am. I need to make it more explicit, though. If I dare ask my students to set aside 30-50 minutes a night of reading, I need to do it, too. I don't accept excuses for not reading every night. Why should they expect excuses from me? I am committing to reading minute-by-minute along with my students every night. I'm excited about what this will do for our classroom next year.

Now here's where it gets even more difficult. The reading thing? I've got that down (for the most part). I talk the talk, and I walk the walk in reading. But what about writing?

Writing is a whole different story. Be honest. How often do you write something? I honestly can't say that I write often enough.

I have read many of Rafe Esquith's books (I recommend them to you). One concept he puts into practice in his classroom is "Essay of the Week." The premise is that kids will become better writers the more they practice. I love it. I've done Essay of the Week in my classroom with good results. BUT.... will the results get even better if I practice what I preach?

I think I do a fair amount of writing. I had to write several essays about myself and my teaching philosophies last school year. I had to write a few research papers for a class I've been taking. I even write blog posts (when I feel up to it). I write weekly to my parents on my class website. But I still feel like I need to do more.

So here's where this blog comes in. I want to commit myself to weekly blog updates of some kind. I expect my students to write weekly. I want them to expect ME to write weekly. When they know that I write often (and that it's relevant to me, that I do it on a weekly basis, that it makes me a better person, and that it makes me develop a stronger passion for writing and learning), then they will take my requests more seriously.

I want all learning my students do to be applicable to the real world. I want it to matter to them for life. I don't want them to do an assignment just for the assignment's sake. I don't want them to do it to please me, even. I want them to do it because they are passionate about learning for life. That's my goal. So here's my commitment to weekly posting. I hope I'm up for it! And I hope you'll read it.

What's coming soon? Our thoughts on billable hours. Discussions about assessment for learning. Relationship building in our classrooms. There are all sorts of ideas buzzing around in my head! Maybe this won't be so hard after all! :)


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Have an iPhone? Teach Reading?

I, Comma Queen, love books. The Lit Lady loves books. Our classrooms are print rich environments. We have read lots of books about helping our students get down to the business of reading! (More on this to come later.)

I have been working for a few months to continue to add books to my class library. I have used some special PTA funds from a fundraiser to buy tons of books from our local book exchange. I have spent countless dollars of my own on new books for the classroom. In my mind, it is money very well spent!

Now that I have all these wonderful books to feed my students' minds, I have to be extra careful to keep track of them. I want to be sure they come back to me for future students to enjoy as well. I have a little notebook keeping track of books checked in and out. It's working...okay.

However, I love technology and have recently decided I wanted to keep up with my classroom library electronically. I wanted originally to order a scanner and software. Um, that's expensive, folks! I'd rather spend that moolah on books.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Birds & The Bullies

I, Comma Queen, am almost ashamed to admit the following statement: I am super pumped about the upcoming Royal Wedding. I always loved Princess Diana as a kid, and I remember watching the news coverage of her death and funeral, devastated - for those who knew and loved her, for her country that adored her, and for those of us who wished they could be like her from afar. I watched, as did many, her sons grow up and become men that would make their mother proud.

I have enjoyed learning about Prince William's fiancee, Kate Middleton. I think she's a gorgeous young woman, poised, and ready to thrive in her new position as Princess. I am unabashedly following all news of the Royal Couple!

I was caught a little off guard today when I read a headline stating that Kate had been bullied at her prep school. I read the article and was disgusted by the things that her classmates did to her because she was "too nice."

Too nice?!?

I am glad to know that, through it all, she seems to have maintained her sense of being nice. I was pleased to see that William and Kate have listed an organization known as Beatbullying (beatbullying.org) as a charity for people to donate to in lieu of giving the couple wedding gifts.

All of this, of course, led me to start thinking about bullying on our side of the Atlantic. There are many worldwide organizations designed to raise awareness about bullying. I looked up organizations for the US and found StopBullying.org. There is a lot of helpful information on this site for kids, parents, and educators alike. I am pleased to see such awareness about such a crippling, humiliating, and devastating matter.

Kids have heard the whole "don't bully" song and dance before though. Yet bullying continues. We teach them to stand up for each other on the playground. Yet bullying continues. We, as parents and educators, keep on heightened alert during down time. Yet bullying continues. What else can we do to combat such a thing?

The picture I've included is the cover art for for Katherine Erskine's beautiful novel, Mockingbird. It is about a fifth grade girl named Caitlin who has Asperger's Syndrome. Caitlin is mercilessly bullied and picked on for her odd behaviors. She is also alienated because her brother, Devon, was murdered in a school shooting at his middle school.

As I read this poignant story, I found myself moved to tears more than once. I felt like I truly connected with Caitlin as the author helped me to better understand the thoughts that someone with Asperger's might have. I felt like, through a novel, I was able to actually get in someone else's very different shoes and understand her. Though this story has many sad events, there are some joyful triumphs as well. It left me feeling awed and respectful of those with difficult diagnoses, and it gave me hope about the fate of humankind.

According to the author, this moving story was inspired by the tragedy of events from the Virginia Tech shootings. At the end of the novel, Erskine asserts that, "by getting inside someone's head, really understanding that person, so many misunderstandings and problems can be avoided - misunderstandings and problems that can lead to mounting frustration and, sometimes, even violence."

As a teacher, I feel it is my duty to continue to give the "don't bully" song and dance. I will continue to learn more about how to stop bullying and what to do about bullies from organizations like StopBullying.org.

However, one of the best things I think I can do, especially as a teacher of reading, is to share stories like Mockingbird with my students. I want them to experience firsthand the terrors of bullying in a safe way, through a lovely, complex character like Caitlin. I want them to struggle along with her, feel her frustrations and agony, and join in her triumphs. Hopefully, if I read this story to my students, they will be able to do things that Katherine Erskine wishes for - true understanding.

Mockingbird was chosen as a Georgia Book Award Winner for 2011-2012. See a list of other award winners here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Listen...

Are they listening? When they decide to start listening will it be too late? What can I do to get them to listen more? Like most teachers, these are the thoughts that keep me up at night. Recently I had a moment with my class where I shared a few of the realities about being their teacher: long hours grading and planning, late nights worrying, and continued learning how to engage and inspire them. I would not change any of it, but I would love for them to respect and care enough to listen.


I teach reading and the majority of class time is spent reading. When I do have whole class 'lecture' time it is short and sweet. One because I know that their attention is short and sweet and two because I think that most of their time in my room should be spent reading (thanks to The Book Whisperer). A short mini lesson to start the class, maybe a brief interruption if a one-on-one conference sparks the need, and a wrap up at the end. But are they listening?


It is not everyone and it is not all the time, but it is enough to make me wonder why. Why are the kids not listening? A few answers might be: over indulgence, lack of interest, lack of motivation, inability to attend, immaturity, distractions... (I could continue...). The one answer I have that beats them all out is the idea of learned helplessness. I think that we (parents, teachers, churches) are perpetuating this listening crisis. We say it again (even after we said we didn't want to), give more than a fair amount of 'second' chances, micro-manage the lives of the children in our lives. Why do they need to listen?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Read, Read, Read!


Ok... Comma Queen! You are most definitely writing and posting more than me. I am really okay with that because we are one teacher separated at birth, but I have to share my proud teacher moment from today!

I have a struggling reader. When I say struggling, I mean she struggles to get meaning from what she reads. If you were to listen to her read you might not know that she is understanding little because she does read quite well.

For months, I have been drilling into my students the idea that the only way to be successful on the upcoming state reading test is to read whatever they want as much as they want. It will be my job, as the teacher, is to provide any test prep they may need in addition. They just get to read, read, read. (Aren't they lucky?)

Like my colleague, I too was meeting with as many students as possible this morning. When I had a chance to meet with the struggling reader mentioned above I noticed two sticky note bookmarks in her book. When I inquired why she told me that one was her bookmark and the other was her goal for reading that day. It looked to me to be about 30 pages of reading. I immediately asked her to tell me as much as she could about her book. She beamed and rattled off a ton of details and events from her book.

I could tell that the effort she was putting into my reading teacher demands was paying off. She was reading.... truly reading and understanding. She was also setting personal goals for herself that were above my own requirements.
I gave her a silent high five, told her I loved the way she challenged herself, and hoped she read even more tonight. I can not wait to ask her tomorrow what the guinea pig that acts like a dog does - Guinea Dog by Patrick Jennings is the book she is reading.

Love my job! I get to sharing the gift of reading! ~Lit Lady

For the Love of a Book

I am obsessed with Harry Potter. I adore Hermione and Ron. I believe that J.K. Rowling is brilliant. I love her books, I love her characters, and I love the journey that I’m on when I read books from the series.

I also get a thrill from sharing books that I love with my students. Mystery, history, humor, or realistic fiction – if I’ve read it and loved it, you can bet I’ve pitched it to my class and lovingly placed it in a growing reader’s hands.

So, quite naturally, I am overjoyed when a student shares a similar love of all things Hogwarts-related. When I make a Potter reference in class, those who have joined me on this literary journey laugh along with me (or murmur in disgust if I mention characters like witchy Professor Umbridge or filthy Filch). I love the feeling that we are all in on a big, delightful secret. It’s a great thing to share.

Not all of my students are Rowling fans, however, and that’s okay. We share similar loves of Sharon Creech, Rick Riordan, Avi, Deborah Wiles, Beverly Cleary, Katherine Paterson, and Scott O’Dell. I must admit, though, that a shared adoration of Harry Potter is special to me.

Recently, one of my students who all year has avoided Potter like the plague has succumbed to temptation and began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He picked it up and within a couple of days, had reached the 400-page mark. “I couldn’t put it down!” he exclaimed as I commented on how quickly he was reading. I beamed with excitement, I’m sure.

Today, during silent reading time, this particular student was continuing with Sorcerer’s Stone as I walked around to conduct my daily reading interviews. It was quiet in the room as everyone was absorbed in his or her book. As I made my way around the room, I suddenly heard a hearty chuckle from our class’s newest Potter enthusiast. He looked up at me and grinned, and said, “I swear, I can totally see Harry doing that in my mind!” He laughed some more and went back to reading.

I have no idea what part of the novel prompted the laughter and the connection, but I was thrilled to see him so engaged in what he was reading. Yup, today was a proud teacher day for me. Proud to welcome a new Potter fan into the fold, but even more proud that another student is in love with a book.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


No, this is not an environmentally friendly post (although I fully support recycling, and fellow blogger Lit Lady is the Reigning Regal Recycler at our school). Today, I’m talking about what good teachers do.

LL and I have been reading lots of other teacher blogs. We’ve recently decided to start following great educators on Twitter. (Follow me on Twitter: @ACommaQueen)

As I read what all these other wonderful educators say on the blogosphere and on Twitter, I wonder about my own cyber future. The reason LL and I started this blog was to share our ideas, triumphs, and failures with other educators. We both feel it is critically important for us a profession to band together and share with one another in order to do our best as we prepare today’s children for tomorrow.

But after reading what everyone else has to say, I ask myself: Do I have anything new to say? Do I have a voice?

After I consider deleting all my profiles and accounts, I realize that we do what the best teachers do. We reduce, reuse, and recycle.

We reduce. Good teachers reduce the amount of fluff and stuff in their curriculum. They do what’s important. We do what’s in the best interest of our students. If it’s not going to help them be successful or help them to love learning, we cut it out. LL and I plan on sharing what we cut out to make our classrooms better learning environments. We hope you’ll share that with us, too.

We also try to reduce the amount of negativity around us. Teaching is hard job, and sometimes, a girl’s gotta vent. (Guys do too!) However, we should try to eliminate as much negativity as possible and realize that we are working in a very important and noble field. We must consider ourselves blessed to do so.

We reuse. Good heavens, I do a TON of this. I usually say that I steal ideas, but I don’t think stealing is the right word (or a nice one, for that matter). I love to read what other teachers are doing in their classrooms, and if it seems like something that I might be able to use in my classroom, just watch – I’ll try it within a few days. I LOVE idea-sharing! It’s the best!

We recycle. Every year when there is a new teacher, I hear a veteran saying, “There’s no need to invent the wheel.” The new teacher is then given stacks of stuff. This even happens between one veteran and another. A good teacher, however, knows how to take the stuff, aka “the wheel,” and recycle it a little to make it work for that teacher and her group of students. We take the old wheel and make it into a new one. We don’t need to start from scratch, but we take old ideas and make them fresh. We make them work for us.

As I ponder this teaching triad and how we, as educators, reduce, reuse, and recycle, I realize that I do have a voice. While most of my ideas are often inspired by other greats, they have value and merit in their own right as I blog (or tweet) about what these ideas mean to me. Take from it what you will, and feel free to reduce, reuse, and recycle any of it.

PS: Want to know whom I’m following on Twitter?
@MrsMimiTeaches
@donalynbooks
@courosa
@shareski
@deacs84
@lindanathan
@karlfisch
@samchaltain
@gwynethjones
@joycevalenza
@brueckj23
@thethirdteacher

I will update you when I follow more!

Poetry Your Kids Will LOVE!

If you teach poetry, you M-U-S-T read Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech. I finished my poetry unit and realized I didn't use these books this year - gasp!

I started reading Hate That Cat to some of the kids today, and after 30 minutes of reading the poetry from this book, the kids got mad that I had to stop in order for them to go to art! I know, it sounds rather dubious, but they couldn't get enough of the book. As soon as we came back from art for about 15 more minutes of class before lunch, they begged me to read more.


It is the story of a boy named Jack, and he is a student in Ms. Stretchberry's class. He is writing in a poetry journal, and we see the thoughts (which he records in poetry form) that he writes to Ms. Stretchberry. It is apparent that the teacher writes back to him, but we only see Jack's entries. The teacher in me loves this for many reasons, but I especially love that it prompts my students to infer what Ms. Stretchberry has written to him. We've had some really thoughtful discussions about the missing parts of the conversation. 


Jack discusses poetry terms, poetic devices, poetry analysis, and his favorite poets. He goes on a wondrous journey as a writer, and a lot of the life experiences he writes about are incredibly relatable for students. As I read aloud Jack's thoughts about onomatopoeia and alliteration, they laughed! As he learns some hard life lessons, some of the students cried along with me as I read. As a teacher, it was a glorious part of my day.

I'm going to go back and read Love That Dog to the rest of my students. If you read these, start with this one, then move on to Cat. Your students, boys and girls alike, even big old fifth graders, will LOVE this book about poetry. My ten and eleven year old students thoroughly enjoyed it. We traveled along an emotional roller coaster with this story today. They were hypnotized by the ideas and rhythms in the book. Anything that can grab them and hold them so firmly is well worth reading aloud (and rereading, for that matter). I already have several students who want to check both books out of my library once I am done reading them aloud.

Read these books. Your students will love them. I guarantee it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It is because I CARE!

I have to continually ask my class why I demand that they pay attention? They show their growing frustration with me when I notice them staring, day-dreaming, picking (this is not on each other it is on themselves or their belongings), drawing, tapping, or otherwise not being attentive to my important (and short) lessons.

The reason is that I care! I generally care about them and about the adolescents they are becoming. I care that requiring them to be attentive to a 10 - 15 minute lesson is not too much to demand of a fifth grader. I care that their future motivation and successes in school may depend upon me pulling them back daily.

I care about them~all of them ~ we all do. Our kids need to to hear that more. They need to understand and internalize that we (teachers) are not the enemy to be brought down with any opportunity.

There are very few teachers that are dong this to show a gain on standardized tests. Teachers are not in this in order to practice their classroom management skills of unruly and unmotivated students at every turn. I am not sure I have seen many teachers that see the joy in filling out referrals or dreaming up impossible tasks for students to labor over. (I know that they are out there... but they are probably not reading a teacher post called 'Nerdy, Nerdy, Nerdy'.)

We care! How do we get them to care at all?

The unfortunate thing is that we have to make a few enemies on the way to show how much we care and to get them to care as well. Nobody likes the trainer at the time of training, but at the end of the race. Filling the savings and retirement accounts is hard, but at the time of retirement, we are more than thankful. Why is learning and education so different?

This all seems very obvious as I read it over, but I am going to post it as a reminder to anyone that takes time to read (or to any teacher that is feeling the sting of these tough times). We care and the kids need to know that is why we are who we are and we do what we do.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Fast Food, Dolores Umbridge, and Education

Bear with me. This is going to have a lot of seemingly random references. I hope, however, that it will be worth it!

We live in a fast food society. I admit that I sometimes fall prey to the ease of swinging through the drive-thru to pick up some processed dinner delights for my family on hectic nights (read: nights I have class, nights we have Cub Scouts, nights when there’s nothing left in the fridge or the cabinets, nights I have a headache, etc.).

In my frequenting, albeit ashamedly, these fast food joints, I have noticed a thing or two that reflects both our American culture and education. Today, for the purpose of posting on this particular blog, I’m going to equate fast food restaurants and American public education.

A few years ago, fast food restaurants started building new structures that featured two drive-thru windows. The logic behind this would be that it would speed the customer through the line, allowing the customer to pay at one window, drive up a little further, and receive the food from the other window.

I’m no genius, but it seems to me that this is just an illusion. You just FEEL like you’re going faster, which lessens the number of complaints from the customer. Well, I’ve noticed that several of those restaurants in our area have boarded up the once-popular additional window. Perhaps the public has figured out that it was indeed an illusion. Perhaps the fast food industry realized that the plan wasn’t as good in reality as it seemed in theory or on paper. Perhaps due to the economy, restaurants couldn’t afford to staff the additional window. Whatever the reason, this fad seems to have fallen by the wayside (at least in my tiny part of this fine country).

OK, before we get to the meat (haha, get it?) of this story, let me bring in a seemingly unrelated reference from Harry Potter, specifically, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. When Dolores Umbridge is introduced to the Hogwarts students at the start of term feast, she says in her rather lengthy (read: boring) speech, “…progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged.”

And here it is… How can I combine fast food restaurants, Dolores Umbridge, and American education? Well, it all comes down to progress.

I hate to agree with that nasty old witch Umbridge; it kind of hurts my inner Gryffindor to do so. Alas, in this instance, I’m going to embrace the quote only and not the other sentiments she expresses.

Progress, for the sake of progress, must be discouraged. Fast food restaurants are falling back to the old tried-and-true one window scenario. It makes better sense. They are comfortable going back to what worked after trying something that they thought would work, but didn’t. I believe it’s time for us as educators to consider the same.

How does this relate to No Child Left Behind (NCLB)? I love what I read in an article tonight that described NCLB as “impossibly sunny.” It is my personal opinion that NCLB sounds great in theory and probably looked fabulous on paper, but it’s not working out so well in practice. I feel that we are sacrificing authentic teaching and learning for the sake of AYP.

There have been quite a few times in my career when I have realized that something isn’t working in my classroom. I’m more than happy to talk about it with the kids. It’s actually happened recently. I sit down with them and say, “Hey, kiddos, this doesn’t seem like it’s really working. What do you think? Do you think we could do something better? What could I do to help you learn more?” And you know what? I always learn something. We work together, teacher plus students, to create a more efficient and effective learning environment. I’m happy to abandon ship IF I know what I was doing is not what’s best for my students. More often than not, it requires me to do things more simply instead of trying to incorporate all of education’s newest buzz words in the classroom.

In schools, I feel that we are always looking at the newest, biggest, baddest (ok, best) thing in education. We try it because everyone else does. We try it because it’s new. We try it because experts (aka “salespeople”) say it will make our test scores go up.

Is this wise? Is this jumping too quickly on the two-window bandwagon? Are we making progress simply for the sake of progress?

It’s time to join forces with Fast Food and Dolores Umbridge. I’m issuing a call for “Back to Basics.”

Hold on now. This doesn’t mean we go back to teaching today’s students in the same way we were taught when we were younger. I don’t believe that’s the best way to teach. In fact, I’m a big believer in the thought that an 18th century education doesn’t adequately prepare a 21st century student. So what do I mean by back to basics?

Basic, to me, is this: We do what’s best for all students. We need to have the guts to stop and say, “Maybe what I’m doing (or what we’re doing) isn’t working. What can I do to best serve ALL of my students?”

This, my friends, requires bravery. This requires that we admit that sometimes, we are wrong. Sometimes we get caught up in the hype. This is tough. It requires us to reevaluate everything we are doing.

I don’t want to teach to raise test scores. I want to teach to raise lifelong readers and learners. I want to teach to inspire. I want to teach to challenge. I want the teaching and learning that occurs in my classroom to be authentic. Meaningful. Lasting.

This, to me, is back to basics.

What does “Back to Basics” mean to you?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pleading Guilty to Grammarcide

Oh heavens. I operate a website with information for my students' parents. I enjoy it, and it thoroughly demonstrates my innate nerdiness. Anyhoo, I update it every Sunday morning and send parents a reminder email that it has been updated.

Now, I realize that since I teach grammar, people probably pay more attention to things I type than other people (as in, non-grammar teachers). Because of this, I attempt to pay super close attention to my grammar in communications with parents and other people who know or care.

This morning, as I sent out the "Website Updated" email, there was [gasp] a typo! I wrote, "There is a lot of new, important notices on the website." UGH! It causes me intense physical pain just to see it written again!

In my defense, I originally typed, "There is a lot of new, important information on the website." I tend to overuse the word "information" when I communicate with parents, so I thought I'd be cool and change it to "notices." (Yes, I am acutely aware of the fact that using the word "notices" does not, in fact, make me cool. Stay with me, people.)

Well, I didn't realize that I had MASS EMAILED A TYPO to all of my students' parents. [Insert another gasp here.] It really bothered me! So of course, I sent out another email:

"Yes, there is a typo in my last email. I'm usually so careful!" Then I go on to tell everyone what I intended to say at first, and I admit to forgetting to change the verb agreement. I close with, "Whoops - I know I teach your children grammar - please forgive!"

I'm not sure which is worse: committing the grammarcide in the first place, or sending an email to point it out and apologize in a rather pitiful way.

[Sigh] I guess I can't win 'em all...

Comma Queen

Pre-Monday Musings

Today I sat in church with a good friend whom I happened to run into yesterday at the Book Exchange. She asked me if I found any good books, and I sheepishly replied that I bought about 10. I told her that I also raided my mother-in-law’s Young Adult bookshelf at her house for about 15 other books. I am quite proud of the books I picked up yesterday!

We started discussing our reading habits, and she confessed to me that she loves to read fiction, but she is trying to branch out and push herself to read more nonfiction. I told her that I have been reading a lot of professional books here lately (keep reading and I will tell you my top two favorites), but I am looking forward to diving back into some Young Adult novels. I also shared with her the title of a book I think she’d love even though it’s for younger readers. (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi – if you haven’t read it, get it and do it! It’s fabulous!)

We continued to discuss the books I’ve recently acquired for my students. I told her that my goal is for my children to do the same thing that she and I had done while waiting on the service to begin – to discuss what they’ve read, to make goals for expanding their reading repertoires, and to share good books with others. I was eager to get some good deals on new books so I could recommend some new (i.e., new as in titles I don’t currently possess in my classroom library, not new as in recently published) titles with them.

I’ve recently finished reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller at the recommendation of my friend and colleague (Lit Lady). If you teach upper elementary or middle school reading (heck, even high school), YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. This is stronger than a recommendation – read it, read it, read it! (Click here for information on how to order it.) Donalyn is the inspiration behind my recent book acquirements!

I love situations like today where I can sit with a friend and discuss what I’ve read. I want my students to be able to do the same thing. I loved reading The Book Whisperer because Donalyn makes it seem easy with down-to-earth and self-tested strategies for how to make this a reality for your students. She also discusses some of her attempts at getting her students to love reading that have failed. When you read it, you will say, “me too,” and “uh-huh,” and maybe even a “preach it, sister!” If you teach reading and you want your students to do more than know your state’s standards – if you want them to know the standards and develop a hard-core lifelong love of reading, get this book!

After discussing books with my friend, I enjoyed a wonderful sermon. I found it amusing, however, that as our pastor preached, I thought, “ooh, that’s a simile,” laughed at a pun, and even found examples of personification and alliteration sprinkled throughout the sermon. It made me nearly laugh out loud at how nerdy I am – for heaven's sake, I sat there and dissected his speech for examples from my state standard curriculum! Even though I was nearly ashamed of myself for delighting in the literary aspects of the sermon, I hope that my students internalize these concepts themselves and find themselves being just as nerdy as me when they grow up. What fun!

So here’s to a love of reading, nerdiness, and all wonderful things teaching! Have a wonderful week!

Comma Queen

PS - Another book that has absolutely transformed my outlook on teaching is by Rafe Esquith, a teacher in Los Angeles, entitled Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire. If you love teaching, this is also a MUST READ! I'm sure one day I'll devote an entire post to this book since I love it so much!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Balance This!


I realized tonight how badly I suck at balancing my lives. I bet that most working mothers/wives feel this way from time to time. I blame it all on my nerdiness.

I am obsessed with reading things about teaching. Books, magazine articles, blogs, my teacher friends’ Facebook statuses… I just love to learn more about my profession. (Read: I love to steal people’s ideas that are better than mine. Shakespeare said, “Everyone I meet is in some way my superior.” Preach it, Shakespeare, preach it.)

Anyhoo, I am spending my evening like I usually do, browsing the Internet for something fabulous I can incorporate in my own classroom. (Go ahead and say it, “Nerdy, nerdy, nerdy!”) I order some books from Amazon that I think my students will love after reading teacher and media specialist recommendations on their blog (readingyear.blogspot.com). I research a little bit about an idea that one of my teacher friends says is effective in her classroom and contemplate how it could work in mine. I pull up one of my favorite teacher blogs by Mrs. Mimi (a teacher blogger from New York, sheer hilarity and in-your-face truth about teaching at itsnotallflowersandsausages.blogspot.com).  I get lost in her stories and nearly pee my pants laughing at situations she describes, knowing I’ve been there, done that, and gotten the cheap teeshirt.

Well, I all of a sudden remember, at 10 pm, that I promised my students earlier that if fifteen of them got pledges for our school fundraiser, that I would bake them chocolate chip cookies. As luck would have it (I really am proud, really), exactly 15 of them got pledges. Lucky for me, I have two packs of break-and-bake cookie dough in the fridge and can “make” them cookies. I am baking both packs because at this point, girlfriend needs a cookie too!

Then I realize that my son’s laundry is in the dryer, wrinkling his fave blue jeans (he is six, by the way). I have to say, though, that it’s a miracle that I’ve done laundry on a weeknight anyway.

I love my job. Teaching is my life. I recently did an interview with a newspaper about teaching, and the writer asked what I did outside of school. In my response, I realize that I eat, sleep, live, and breathe teaching. Add to that an equal love of technology and the Internet. Unfortunately for my family, I end up forgetting to do family things, like make dinner and fold laundry. I end up keeping my husband up past his bedtime so I’m not in the kitchen by myself making cookies that I promised the little darlings I would bring.

Lucky for me, however, I have a family who loves me and, if not fully impressed by my dedication to my students, they are generously tolerant of it. I may not win a wife-of-the-year or mother-of-the-year award, but I love the crazy pace of a teacher’s life. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

Hopefully my fashion-savvy first grade son will feel the same way about my life in the morning when his jeans are wrinkled. Whoops. And hopefully, I won’t burn the cookies.

Comma Queen

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gently Grab the Reader ~ Lit Lady

I have always marveled at the students that do not take the time given to free read in my room. If someone told me that I had time to read what I wanted, I would shower them with kisses and hugs. But kids that have not yet been hooked on reading tend to resist. They hold the book. They sit on the sofa. They turn the pages. They don't read.

I also think that the kids are amazed when I can tell they are not reading. As an avid reader, teacher, and mother, I know what real reading looks like from across the room. A 'staged' reader is like a siren with flashing lights in my room.

We have to grab those readers gently. Place the right book in their hands at the right time. An almost impossible task! Right?

Here is what I have been trying. I start every year with a shared reading - The BFG by Roald Dahl. It is a funny fantasy about people eating giants. We stop frequently, discuss freely, and reread the funny parts. I do with them the same thing I do alone when I read. Follow that with viewing of the movie and a compare and contrast essay about the book ~ it is a winning combination. I will usually see a few copies of The BFG or other titles by Roald Dahl being carried around by those that I have successfully 'grabbed'.


Then it is time for step 2... pay attention and model, model, model. I ask about the books they get from the library. I read the titles I see a lot. I conference and recommend. I get in the zone with them. I ask them to read to me. I continue to read to them. Gently grabbing the reader in all of them.

Reading is living. Reading is understanding. Reading is a gift ~ share it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bring Geeky Back!

Justin Timberlake made the phrase "Bring Sexy Back" popular. I would like to instead "Bring Geeky Back." 

What a weird mission, right? Probably. But I love the idea! I hate that there are still some kids today who feel like being "too smart" isn't cool, so they don't try as hard to achieve success. This doesn't just happen with older kids - it even starts with our younger students. This absolutely breaks my heart.

I do feel that it is probably better now than when I was a K-12 student, but this mentality still exists. Think about your own classroom. Do your students ever use the term "geek" or "nerd" to make fun of the smart kids in school? Have you ever heard of a student who doesn't want to be thought of as nerdy, but would much rather be cool? I know I've heard it.

I don't think of being geeky/nerdy as a bad thing! I certainly feel it's a compliment! I would describe myself as a big nerd, and I'm happily married to a geek I adore (I use the terms interchangeably, but I know there have been other blogs to define the proper usage of each term as they have separate meanings, but I won't go onto that right now). What I want to know is this: what can we do to bring geeky back?

Is it a matter of building self-esteem among the nerdy? Is it a matter of us embracing our own inner geeks to serve as confident role models for the future generations of geeky Americans? 

I think it's easier in this age of gadgets and gizmos galore (please pardon that Disney reference). I personally think it's the nerds who will lead us into the future. So how do we get them to be proud of their intellect and push them to do more?

I'm personally a fan of making "Bring Geeky Back" teeshirts, but sometimes I take my ideas too far. Thoughts?